Archive for 'buying my books will help me recover'



What Stace had to say on Thursday, January 21st, 2016
RIP, My Favorite Misanthrope

Florence King has died.

I am heartbroken.

I was nineteen or twenty when I picked up a copy of CONFESSIONS OF A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY. And I fell in love with it. I recommended it to practically everyone I met; I read and re-read it dozens of times. How could you not fall in love with an author who says, “No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street,” as proof that she is still the lady her grandmother wanted her to be? How can you not fall in love with an author who makes you laugh so hard, for so long, and keeps doing it on almost every page? You can’t, or at least I couldn’t, and I was desperate for more.

I was lucky there. Plenty more existed. Over the years I’ve read (almost) all of it, and loved all of it, to the point that for a while I actually subscribed to the National Review just to get her column, “The Misanthrope’s Corner.”

It wasn’t just the humor, or the wit, or the incredibly sharp eye she turned on everything, that made me love her work so much, or keep reading even when I disagreed with her. Florence King’s writing jumped off the page; everything she wrote was elegant, concise, with an edge that could cut glass. This is the woman who, in a review of some turgid literary novel, referred to a long, dull analytical conversation between strangers passing in the night as a “zipless Weltschmerz.” This is the woman who cancels an eye appointment with an optometrist whose receptionist doesn’t know how to spell “King” because, as she says: “If his receptionist couldn’t spell King, what was the optician who hired her like? I wouldn’t trust these baby bloodshots to just anybody, to paraphrase Lynda Carter, so instead of rescheduling the appointment I canceled it.” The woman who referred to a religious gathering as “the Promise Keepers Washington writhe-in.” This is the woman who once wrote a reviewer a letter chastising his positive review of her book because the review was poorly written (Miss King [she was never “Ms.”] reviewed numerous books professionally herself, and all of those reviews were delightful to read).

It’s that last one that speaks the most to what she meant to me, though. Florence King was the first writer I ever read who talked about writing. Who analyzed other writers she admired (an essay on Edna Buchanan was one of my favorites) and what was so admirable about them. She talked about punctuation–I can’t recall her exact words about comma usage here, but she said something about how she liked to use as few as possible so the sentence would just slide down the reader’s throat in one smooth gulp; it’s an analogy I think of constantly while working. She talked about word choice (“Fear of getting mad is so widespread that nobody says mad any more. The word is angry: somehow it sounds less mad than mad,” isn’t the best example, but it’s one I can link to)
and language in general. She talked about passivity in language and weasel-words and phrasing which obfuscates the point. She talked about paring sentences down, getting to the meat, and eliminating all of the side dishes. She talked about words in harmony with each other and the importance of an “ear.” She wrote a long article about GONE WITH THE WIND, wherein–among other things–she discussed some of the literary rules broken by Ms. Mitchell, and how it didn’t matter; it was from her I learned that any character in a story must have a purpose for being there, and that characters without purpose shouldn’t be created (Mitchell broke this rule, specifically in one very subtle way: the strong implication that Rhett Butler had a son with Belle Watling. The child is brought up two or three times, without ever being called Rhett’s son despite the obvious truth that he is, but the potential plot issues which could be caused by such a character are never addressed. Perhaps it’s because only the reader sees all of the comments about him, which means that one character [Melanie] only knows that Belle has a son who lives elsewhere, and another [Scarlett] only knows that Rhett has a young male ward in New Orleans; this put the reader in the fun position of knowing personal secrets that the characters do not, but still doesn’t make any difference to the story itself.)

None of these were part of a specific writing lesson. They were just observations she made while skewering culture or people (or complaining about fact-checkers and copyeditors, which she did hilariously more than once), but they made me think, really think, about how things are written or said. They made me think about how to express what I meant in the best, clearest way. They made me think about how to think, how to draw connections between one thing and another, and point them out. They led not only by explanation but by example.

It wasn’t just writing, though. Miss King had a love of, and a knack with, historical anecdotes and stories. If you do not follow any other links in this post, follow this one, an absolutely fascinating analysis of the Lizzie Borden case (who else could refer to the Borden case as a “zany tragedy?”). It was from Miss King that I learned the gruesome details of Edward II’s death (they shoved a red-hot poker up his ass) and the best story about the importance of punctuation ever told: Edward was imprisoned, and his queen and her lover wanted him dead. Of course, they needed to communicate said desire in writing, but could not actually order it in writing, since regicide is a pretty serious crime. Their compromise was genius. They sent a letter which read, exactly like this, “Kill Edward not to fear is good.”

Place the comma after “Edward,” and see what you have. Now remove it, and put it after “not.” Isabella and her dastardly lover knew what they were doing. That’s plausible deniability if ever I saw it, and it’s the kind of story that makes those of us who love words and language shake our heads in admiration.

The National Review has archived some of her columns–that’s where the links in this post came from, as otherwise it’s hard to find her work online–but that archive isn’t really representative of her entire body of work (which is not really political), IMO, and although the columns contain her trademark wit and style, none of them are her best work, either. That came in her books, from CONFESSIONS to THE FLORENCE KING READER and beyond–the latter contains a chapter from the bodice-ripper she wrote in the 70s (when the term “bodice-ripper” actually fit) under the pen name Laura Buchanan; her description of writing it while drinking glass after glass of bourbon, culminating in her passing out in a closet, is hilarious. If anyone is looking for a place to start as far as reading King, I’d say either of those two titles is the place to go.

And I urge you to do so. I can honestly say that Florence King is part of the reason I became a writer. She made me realize it was possible. She taught me what to do and what to look for. I didn’t always agree with her, but I always loved reading her take on things. She was an inspiration to me, and I cried when I learned that she had died.

RIP, Miss King, and thank you.

***A few other tidbits:

YES, Downside 6 is happening, and I am working on it. Carpal tunnel has been limiting my work-time/word-count a bit, but I’m doing better.

I caught some horrible plague-sickness at Christmas and it took me a couple of weeks to get better. The Brits refer to this sort of cold as a “lurgy,” (with a hard G) and that describes it pretty well.

For Christmas, I bought myself an InStyler–supercheap on Ebay. I like it. It works pretty well. It takes a bit of time to do my hair, but the results are good, and it’s much easier than rolling my damp hair in Velcro curlers and sitting around in them for hours, which is what I’ve been doing.

The Hubs and I are still obsessed with the game Far Cry 3, which he’s been playing on the Playstation 3 since we bought the thing back in the summer(?) According to the game, 115 hours have been spent playing it. Mostly he plays and I watch; we allow ourselves like an hour of this several times a week (I’m not watching him play when I’m supposed to be working, I promise!). If you’re not familiar with video games or don’t know which one to try or whatever, I highly, highly recommend it. (Far Cry 4, which he has also played all the way through, is good, too, but I prefer 3; the scenery is prettier. I was Very Excited when I saw they were using the Himalayas as a setting for 4, but there’s actually very little time spent in the mountains, which was/is disappointing.)

I think that’s about it.

What Stace had to say on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Well…that sucked

or

What Happened When My Intestine Exploded

First, of course, I have to say a huge enormous Thank You!!! to all of you. Your emails and comments, your cards and letters and packages, were just incredible; you have no idea how much they meant to me and how much I appreciated them. Really, thank you so much. I haven’t replied individually yet–I’m still trying to get back on my feet a bit, and I came back to over a thousand emails–but I will. In the meantime, please accept my enormous gratitude. It was and is really incredible to see how many people actually care.

So, what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. This story gets a bit icky, guys, just as a word of warning.

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, October 26th, with the most incredible pain in my abdomen. It felt–to be rather crude, sorry–like the worst gas ever, moving all around my abdomen, not localized in one place. Just this horrible stabbing pain. It was hard to walk, it hurt so bad. It was hard to lift things, it hurt so bad. It was hard to drive, it hurt so bad. I drove to the pharmacy to buy some sort of gas-relieving medication, and the woman there seemed to think something was terribly wrong with me, I thought from the way I appeared in obvious pain but I was told later that I was so dehydrated I looked like a skeleton.

Anyway. Wednesday I was supposed to drive to the Southwest to look for a new home near Mr. K’s work. But I was still in horrible pain, so I canceled. This worried Mr. K so much that he left work and drove the several hours back here, insisting that I go to the hospital. I didn’t think it was that necessary but I was starting to worry a bit, yeah, so I finally agreed.

We reached the ER (or A&E as they call it here) at Lister Hospital at around 3 pm. They saw me right away. They palpated my abdomen which hurt a ton, even after giving me oral morphine. They put me in a gown and sent me to be X-Rayed–at this point it was probably about 5, given the time to wait for the X-Ray and talking to the docs etc. etc. We waited for the X-Rays to come back and the blood tests (and man, my veins are hard to find anyway, when I’m dehydrated it’s almost impossible, so that was NOT pleasant and would only get worse).

That’s when the fun happened. All of the sudden I was taken into this other room, and greeted by about seven surgeons, who informed me that my X-Ray had shown air under my diaphragm, which indicated a hole in my intestine. An ulcer which had eaten all the way through, to be more exact. Apparently this is very serious and can be fatal thanks to dehydration and peritonitis and such–who knew?–and I’d already delayed longer than I should have, so the surgeons bumped their other surgeries so I could be the very first one in when the OR opened at 7 pm. The head surgeon said, “This is major surgery, so whatever else happens, you are going to be one very sick young lady for the next two weeks at least.” Yay me!

So into the OR I went. I remember being told I’d probably feel a little dizzy, and the next thing I remember is seeing Mr. K. telling me it was all over and I was fine, and then I was in this special intensive post-op care unit. I spent five days there, mostly sleeping and pressing the little button that would give me more morphine. I had a gnarly row of staples down the middle of my stomach and tubes poking out of me everywhere: my nose, my stomach, a catheter (of course), and a bunch of IVs and lines in my neck and hands/wrists. They were also coming to take blood just about every day. LOTS of needle sticks.

I was in the special post-op ward for five days. It was generally nice and quiet, except for the night we had a woman in there moaning constantly and asking the nurses–in the middle of the night, mind–why they wanted to kill her. Oh, and there was the older gentleman who was very angry a lot of the time; when the phone rang he’d become enraged and shout that they shouldn’t answer it, or if they did to “Tell them I’m not here! Tell them I’m still in hospital!” To which the nurses would ask if he knew where he was, that he was in fact still in hospital, and that they had to answer the phone because it was the hospital’s phone.

But anyway. On the fifth day they moved me into another post-surgery ward, where we weren’t monitored quite as closely. Because the ward was full of men I actually got a private room, since I am not a man and rules say a lone woman can’t be put in a ward full of men. That was nice, the private room, but let me clarify something for my American friends, since those I spoke to on the phone were utterly shocked by this (and to be fair, so was I, a bit). I had a private room, yes. I did not have a private bathroom; I used a commode (basically an adult potty seat the nurses would wheel in) or, once I was able to walk, the public bathroom in the hall which all the patients and visitors used. (Yes, very sanitary, I know.) I did not have a TV in my room, or a phone. I was not permitted to plug in my computer or cellphone, so I wasn’t able to use the internet at all or really get any work done–not that I was up to working, but still. Stephen had to charge stuff for me at home and bring it in, and the hospital didn’t want me to keep valuables in my room anyway, so generally he’d bring my laptop and a DVD and we’d watch it until they made him leave. All I did for most of the time was sleep, stare into space, or look at magazines, since I didn’t feel up to getting involved in a book (which should tell you how bad I felt).

So. On Wednesday 2nd November, one week after the initial surgery, I woke up around 2 am and noticed my stomach felt a bit wet. It felt wet because it was wet, with blood. Read the rest of this entry »